This article talks about the variations on Santa Claus that can be found in different cultures worldwide, but I was more interested in the discussion of how our toys are similar. The Brooklyn Museum’s toy expert Stewart Culin notes that throughout the world children play with pretty much the same toys.
The casual observer, when he sees a child playing shuttlecock or dominoes or similar childish games, takes it to be merely the natural expression of the inevitable childish tendency to frolic. The student of men and customs looks deeper. He sees int he games and toys of childhood the evidence of a kinship of the human race.
All over the world and from the earliest ages children have amused themselves in very much the same manner. The toys and games American children have this Christmas time are very much the same as those that amuse the children of China, Japan, and Africa. What is more, they are approximately of the same sort as those played with four thousand years ago by the brown-skinned babies over whom the Pharaohs ruled.
We acquire, as time goes on, a greater mechanical dexterity, but we never improve on the nature of the toys. They are just the same kind now as Pharaoh’s daughter gave to Moses to keep him from crying when she rescued him out of the bulrushes.
I wonder what Stewart Culin would say about video games. They are certainly a far cry from the games of thousands of years ago, but maybe he would see similarities. The Sims are just like complex dolls in virtual dollhouses. And many popular games are merely high-tech boardgames. But what about first person shooters? Or arcade games? Platform jumpers? What would he have made of them? Unfortunately, Culin died in 1929, long before the first video games, so we’ll never know.
KINSHIP OF ALL NATIONS IS SHOWN IN THEIR TOYS: Games and Playthings Pretty Much the Same the World Over — Dolls of the Ancients — A Santa Claus in Japan. (PDF)
From December 18, 1910